Greasy Spoon Sweatshop

Greasy Spoon Sweatshop

A Play in Five Acts


Robert S. Robbins



The same, early in the morning.


JOE enters from Left and looks at his watch. He peers anxiously offstage Left.
JOE (muttering to himself)
Where is everybody today? Nobody showed up across the street to wait to be let in. Christ, it's ten minutes past five now. They can't all be late or sick. I'd better start calling people or I won't get this store open.
(JOE goes into the office and looks through his rolodex for a number. He dials the phone.)
Hello Debbie? Where are you? You know you're scheduled to open today...What's the matter with you?...Couldn't you come in anyway, just for an hour or two?...Well nobody showed up this morning so I need you here...Are you really sick or is this that union thug's idea?... Hello?...Hello?...Damn it!
(JOE dials another number.)
Mike! Where the hell are you? I'm all alone here at the store...Why can't you come in today?...That is what Debbie told me. You can't both be sick...Well you can work with a stomach ache. It won't kill you...You'd better come in tomorrow with a doctor's excuse or you'll be written up. I won't stand for this shit...Hello?... Hello? Damn kid hung up on me!
(JOE dials another number. Waits for several rings.)
Come on Steve, pick up the phone...pick up the phone damn it...Hello Steve?...Damn answering machine...Steve this is Joe at Quickie Burger. I need you to come in as soon as possible. I've had two people call in sick so we're really short crew. If you can make it in to open the store I'd really appreciate it. Show us you really care about your job. Bye!
(JOE looks at his watch and dials another number.)
Hello Sonya?...Who is this?...May I speak to Sonya please?...This is Quickie Burger. We would like her to come in early today...Yes, well we're real sorry about what happened to Jim...No! We don't pressure teenagers... Look suicide is a big problem with teenagers...I've never pushed your daughter around Mrs. Alvarez...Why don't you let Sonya decide that? It is her job...May I speak with Sonya...Please don't scream at me Mrs. Alvarez...Can Sonya come in today or not?...Hello? Damn it, nobody is coming in to open the store. Now I'll have to call Keith.
(JOE dials the phone again.)
Hello Keith? Sorry to wake you up but none of the crewpeople scheduled to open the store are coming in today...Debbie and Mike say they are sick. I had to leave a message on Steve's answering machine and Sonya's mother hung up on me...Well I don't know. They could be staging a sick-out...Okay I guess we could open a hour late then. I'll wait for you to get here. Thanks...Bye.
(JOE enters the kitchen and hurries to turn on the equipment. He grumbles to himself as he hustles to stock the kitchen freezers and prepare his work area.)
How the hell am I supposed to do everything myself and get this place ready by seven o'clock? Who is going to take the orders on counter while I work back here at the grill? Keith won't be much help. If none of the crew is going to show up we'll have to go through the whole day with just managers. Keith should close the store. What the hell is the idea staying open when we don't have any help?
(JOE goes up on counter to brew the coffee and places change in the cash register drawers. His movements are rushed and violent.)
Damn it! I thought we had settled that union business last night. They're all enjoying a day off for a stupid union that won't ever get in here anyway and I'm stuck here alone, running myself ragged trying to get everything done...This is fucking impossible! Damn that Keith, damn him. What makes him think I can do all this alone? Well fuck this!
(JOE drops what he is doing in frustration and marches into the office. He redials the phone.)
Keith? This is Joe. I don't think we're going to be able to open today...I can't get this place ready by myself. Who is going to help me when we get customers...Nobody is coming in. We've got nobody to cook on grill or take the orders...Well if you're on counter and I'm on grill then we still have nobody in drive-thru...When will you be here?...Okay I'll try to get as much done as possible until you get here...Bye.
(JOE dejectedly returns to the kitchen and resumes a frenzied rush to get all the equipment set up on the prep table.)
I ought to walk out myself. I should have joined the union with the rest of them. Hell, being a manager here is no special privilege.
(JOE looks up and notices something offstage Left, where the lobby windows would be.)
Damn there's a customer already. What time is it? Only five fifteen. The one day we're going to be an hour late in opening and somebody has to show up early waiting to be let in. Well he's going to wait a good hour and a half today...Now he's waving at me. You're going to have to wait asshole...Say, that isn't that LeBotz character, is it? I'd better see what he wants. Maybe I can get him to allow my crew to work today.
(JOE exits Left and returns with a cheerful LeBOTZ.)
LeBOTZ (mildly sarcastic)
Where's your crew today Joe? In case you're wondering where everybody is this morning, Steve called me last night and said you made everyone sick at your meeting. I brought another copy of the recognition form which might make us feel better if you'd care to give us a signature on it.
JOE (annoyed)
Very funny. Keith would have to sign that. He will be here shortly to help me since we don't have any crewpeople coming in today. Why don't you ask Mike or Debbie to come in to work? Just for today. You caught us by surprise and now our customers won't know what is going on. We need a few days to work things out before you pull anything like this. You didn't even give us a chance.
What kind of chance do you want? That is your tough luck. You had a chance to resolve the matter with the union but instead you tried to talk your crew into siding with you. And from what I heard you badly bungled that. Now you'll pay the price.
JOE (pleading)
Look, I don't make the decisions around here. If it was up to me, we would have a union and work with you to make this a better place to work. You have to talk with Keith about that. But I'm trying to do my job here and now I have to knock myself out because I don't have any help.
LeBOTZ (unmoved)
Why don't you close for the day? You'll learn the hard way that you can't do it alone. You managers think you are such hotshots. I've heard management brag they could handle the shop themselves if they had to but when it comes down to it they aren't superheroes.
JOE (bitter)
I hope you weren't planning on having breakfast while you're here. I'd put some filter powder in your scrambled eggs. Here comes Keith. Now you're in trouble.
KEITH enters from Left. He is disheveled and in a foul mood, although he isn't entirely awake yet.)
KEITH (seeing LeBOTZ)
What are you doing here? Where is my crew? If they don't come in today I can't guarantee they'll still have jobs. I offered them the shirt off my back last night and they turn around and do this to me! Without any warning whatsoever. I could have transferred some people from another store if I had known they planned to strike today. No, instead they pull a fast one to leave us holding the bag. Do you think you can get your way by catching us off guard? We'll have this place fully staffed by lunch. You can't shut us down.
I have another recognition form with me. If you'd come to your senses and sign it you could have your crew back to work without further trouble. We could draw up a tentative contract later. All I'm asking you to do now is to sign this form which merely acknowledges the fact that your employees have elected to be represented by our union. By law they have a right to form a union so you can hardly refuse to recognize it.
KEITH (aloof))
Please leave. We have a lot of work to do, thanks to you. I don't recognize your union because we can resolve personnel issues through our internal grievance procedures. There is no need for a third party to be involved. I think you would just exasperate problems instead of solve them. You've only been here two days and already you've created a major problem.
You create your own problems. Well suit yourself. I hope you have a good day doing your own hard work. While you're struggling to keep up with the workload just remember to think of your employees who have to deal with it every day.
KEITH (with pride)
Hey I've lent a hand whenever my crew needed it. I drop fries, take orders, and greet customers whenever I walk into one of my stores. I've done more work in Quickie Burger than you've ever done mister. I bet you've never gotten a finger greasy in your life doing real work.
LeBOTZ (laughing as he exits)
Greasy fingers, I like that...!
JOE (nervous)
The coffee is brewing but we need the meats and eggs put down. Is it all right if we let the shake machine go without cleaning today?
I guess it'll have to. Lock the door. I'll get busy on the grill. You can work on stocking the counter area with cups, napkins, and utensils. Pick up that straw wrapper.
(JOE gives KEITH a look as he stoops to pick up the wrapper. He exits Left to lock the door and then gets busy in the counter area.)
When are we getting some people from the other stores?
Oh about nine o'clock. Why didn't you mop the floor back here? There's some ketchup spilled over there and it's greasy by the fryers.
JOE (controlled anger)
Hey I was busy. I had all I could handle trying to get things set up for breakfast. I didn't have time to do any cleaning.
Clean as you go. There's no excuse for leaving your area a mess. Now get a mop on this floor.
JOE (losing it)
Hey I don't have time. Things aren't ready. The floor can wait until we get some people in here.
Well make time. We have a half hour before we open the doors.
I thought we were opening at seven o'clock.
I'm here now. We can get this place ready by six thirty.
(JOE mutters fiercely beneath his breath as he snatches a mop to do the floor.)
Joe, can you bring me up some bacon? Leave that and bring me some bacon. Come on, don't play with the mop. Get that bacon up here.
(JOE exits Right with a great show of disgust. He returns with a box of bacon.)
You see this trash can? There are a lot of scuff marks on this trash can. Make sure you have that taken care of. No need to do it now. Just bring it to the attention of the maintenance man.
JOE (impatient)
Can I go back to my work on counter now? I need to get the beverage system primed.
You don't have the beverage system ready? What are you standing around for? Get that thing primed so we can draw a coke without making a mess.
Are you going to fire the people who didn't show up today?
We'll worry about that later. Right now we need to handle this emergency.
(KEITH works very deliberately in the kitchen while JOE scrambles to get things in order up front.)
Are we ready to open the store now?
I just have to put some folded eggs down and make the hotcake mix.
Are you sure I can open the doors now. You'll be ready?
Yeah go ahead. You take the orders while I cook the product. I'll yell if I need help.
(JOE exits Left to unlock the lobby doors. When he returns several customers enter the dining room.)
JOE (into the speaker)
Give me six egg muffins, bacon four, two egg biscuits, bacon one, and a hotcakes and sausage.
It's going to be a minute for the hotcakes. I don't have the batter mixed yet.
I need the egg muffins right away.
Are you having problems with your neighbors? I saw the sign as I came in. What's their beef with Quickie Burger?
JOE (puzzled)
Excuse me? What sign?
There's a sign on the front lawn of the house next door. It says "Quickie Burger. Not in my back yard."
JOE (surprised)
Oh. I guess I didn't see that when I came in this morning because it was so dark. I don't know what the problem is. We've never had any trouble with the neighbors before. I think an elderly couple lives there. Hey Keith, a customer says the couple next door put a protest sign on their front lawn.
KEITH (worried)
Is that right? It must be that union creep. He has gotten to the neighbors already.
Where's my hotcakes and sausage? I have to be at work in a few minutes. Let's make this a quickie.
JOE (forgetting himself)
Keith, where's my hotcakes? Don't you have them down yet? I want to see some sweat back there!
KEITH (stung)
Hey! Your hotcakes are going down now. Let's just relax and do our best to make things go smoothly. I know we don't have enough crew to get the orders out fast so apologize to the customers and calm down.
Sorry Keith. I didn't mean to hassle you or anything. It's just I got this customer in a hurry to get to work. Do you have my egg muffins yet?
Did you call some egg muffins?
JOE (annoyed)
Yes I called six egg muffins, bacon four. I need one for drive-thru. Please acknowledge my order next time.
KEITH (giving him a look)
Six egg muffins, thank you. Your hotcakes are up.
(KEITH passes up a hotcakes in a flat container which JOE opens to examine.)
This isn't a hotcakes and sausage. You forgot the sausage. Give me a piece of sausage with this.
(JOE passes it back.)
Forget it. I got to leave now or I'll be late for work.
(CUSTOMER exits Left.)
JOE (exasperated)
Never mind the hotcakes and sausage. He just walked out the door. Where's my egg muffin? They're honking their horn out in drive-thru.
KEITH (confused)
Egg muffin? Do we have any muffins toasted? How do you have your toaster situated?
JOE (fed up)
It's over there next to the bun cabinet. You mean you don't have any muffins? I'll have to give drive-thru a Be-Our-Guest card. That's two customers you've pissed off already. Why don't we just call it quits and close until we get some crew in here? We can't handle this ourselves.
KEITH (slightly ruffled)
Now be patient. We can do this if we work as a team. I just need a little time to get my levels built up. I haven't done this in a long time. Can you give me a hand back here?
JOE (vindictively)
No! I have another customer to wait on. You think teamwork is the solution to every production problem. Well we don't have a team now.
(to the customer)
Yes, may I help you?
CUSTOMER (sarcastic)
I'll have a greasy hamburger, cold fries, and a flat soft drink.
JOE (not amused)
I'm sorry we're serving breakfast now. Lunch isn't until ten thirty and we only sell food hot and delicious.
That's funny, you gave me exactly that yesterday. But for breakfast I'll have runny eggs, burnt bacon, and a greasy hashbrown.
JOE (into speaker)
Give me a big breakfast with a well done piece of bacon.
A big breakfast thank you.
I heard a teenager who worked here killed himself. Is that why the old man is working back there? Don't bother giving me an application.
JOE (not responding)
Your order will be up in a few minutes.
(Dr. BRENNER enters Left and approaches the counter. He is a stout, middle-aged man dressed conservatively in a business suit, holding a briefcase.)
Hello! I'm professor Gregory Brenner of the Pennsylvania State University, Social Studies department. I was wondering if I could speak with you for a few minutes. I heard about your union trouble. I'm researching a book on militant unionism for our university press and I'd like to do a chapter on the Quickie Burger struggle. Any assistance you could give me would be greatly appreciated.
JOE (uncertain)
I'm sorry but I can't help you. We're not discussing the matter with the media right now.
Oh I'm not with the media. I'm a scholar specializing in labor studies. You can talk to me. I'm an objective observer.
You're not associated with the union, are you? I think you'd have to talk with the owner. He's in the kitchen right now.
No, I'm not a union official. Is that the owner there? May I speak with him then, please?
Keith! This man would like to talk with you.
(KEITH comes up to the counter)
Yes? How may I help you?
I'm a professor at Penn State. I would like to interview you for a book I'm doing.
KEITH (flattered)
Of really! I'd love to help you with your book but I'm kind of busy right now. Can you leave me your business card so I can get back to you? What are you writing about, business management? How did you get my name for an interview?
Oh no, I'm not writing about business management, at least not directly. I specialize in labor studies. I would like to interview you and your management staff in connection with the organizing drive. Your perspective would be invaluable in providing balance to my book. I assure you absolute objectivity in my work.
KEITH (suspicious)
You want to interview me about our union problem? I'm afraid our strategy is strictly confidential as you must well appreciate. How is it that you knew there was a drive taking place when it hasn't been reported in the media?
I have my sources in the labor movement of course. I've been following their activities. Look I have credentials if you wish to see them and a copy of my book contract with an outline of my project.
KEITH (severe)
I'm sorry but I can't help you. There isn't going to be a union here so you might as well leave this out of your book. We really wouldn't appreciate the publicity because there shouldn't be any union efforts associated with this business. It is highly inappropriate.
DR. BRENNER (pouncing)
Can I quote you on that?
KEITH (startled)
What? No! This is strictly off the record.
I did ask you if I could talk with you and you agreed. So everything you said was on the record.
KEITH (angry now)
If you're not going to place an order then please leave. I'm not going to talk with you and you're obstructing a place of business.
Well here's my card if you change your mind. I have a certain Mr. LeBotz to find.
(DR. BRENNER hands KEITH a business card and exits Left.)
JOE (annoyed)
Damn eggheads! Imagine him showing up here with a university press book contract yet.
Well those college commies have precious little to study with the American labor movement in decline. It's not surprising they'll stoop to hassling the small businessman. Let me take this next order. Good morning Mr. Hitchens. Will you be having your usual?
I'm sorry Keith but this is the last time I come here. I'm severely disappointed in you. I thought you were running a nice place. Now I find out you've worked a young man to his death and your employees are taking a stand against you. I knew Jim Alexander. He was a nice kid. He went to our church. Didn't Quickie Burger donate money to the church's teen suicide prevention hotline? So why the hell is a neighborhood youth dead now?
KEITH (apologetic)
Gee I'm sorry you feel that way Mr. Hitchens. We donated to your church hotline because we employ teenagers and we care about them. If we had had any clue to Jim's problems we would have directed him to your church.
CUSTOMER (bitter)
Oh really? I'm sure you had more than a clue considering you pushed him to it. You're a bad neighbor Keith. Your business isn't welcome here anymore and so help me you better get this damn sweatshop out of our neighborhood or else! Don't make us have to push you out.
Who is us?
Everyone in our church for one thing. And the local property owners want you out too. That union organizer told us that our property is devalued for being in proximity to a Quickie Burger. We're considered a suburban slum because of your restaurant.
KEITH (outraged)
Oh please, a suburban slum! That's pure bullshit. You can't believe that union thug. He is spreading lies. We enhance the value of the neighborhood because we provide jobs and a desirable service. We are part of the neighborhood tax base.
CUSTOMER (sarcastic)
Yeah you provide jobs that people blow their brains out for. We don't need that kind of thing around here. Take your business to a real slum where they might be desperate enough to tolerate doing a quickie at Quickie Burger.
(The CUSTOMER walks out without placing an order.)
KEITH (incensed)
First he turns my crew against me and then he turns the neighborhood against me. I'm going to have to call the corporation and have them send their security specialists out here to deal with this. Somebody is likely to torch the place with the inflamed passions caused by that trouble maker. Who is this? I bet he is not coming in to eat.
Good morning. I'd like to see the manager please.
That's all we have here today. Just managers running the store. How may I help you?
DA KIRBY (very officious)
I'm the District Attorney, William S. Kirby. I understand you had some trouble here the day before yesterday with a Mr. Alexander?
Yes. He pulled a gun on one of my staff and threatened to shoot him. I hope you are going to ask for the maximum sentence.
My office is preparing our case against him. I just need to ask you a few questions. Now, Mr. Alexander's son worked for you. Is that correct?
KEITH (nervous)
Yes. He was a grill person.
Did Jim show any signs of being under stress while working here? Did he ever seem upset or distraught? Give any clues to his emotional state?
Ummm...I didn't really see Jim that often. I'm only here once or twice a day to visit the store and see how things are going. You'll have to ask Joe about that because he was usually the manager when Jim was working. Joe, can you come over here? This is the District Attorney. He wants to ask a few questions in preparation for their case against Mr. Alexander.
Hello Joe. How are you today?
JOE (nervous)
Oh all right. We're kind of short crewpeople today though.
Joe, did you ever observe any indication that Jim Alexander was under undue stress while working here?
JOE (reluctantly)
Well...He would start crying sometimes when we got really busy and everybody had to hustle.
Did you or any of the staff yell at him or threaten him in such a way as to cause his crying?
JOE (alarmed)
Well...maybe some of the other managers had to talk with him to get him to move a little faster during a rush. He was kind of slow some of the time.
Did he ever mention anything about his personal problems? Ever suggest his father could be a little rough with him? Did he ever start crying while talking about his father?
JOE (uncomfortable)
No he never mentioned his father and he didn't cry except when we had to speak with him about his performance.
Of course you're aware of the child labor laws which forbid using minors for dangerous work, physically demanding work, or work that interferes with school or requires exceptionally long hours?
I'm sure Jim wasn't asked to do anything of that nature. He was old enough to work on grill which could cause burns if you're not careful but he was forbidden to work backline with the fryers. Jim never suffered any burns, did he Joe?
No I don't remember him ever getting burned. He never had any injuries on the job. And he only worked five hours a day for three days a week because of his availability.
Bear in mind that I'm not seeking any grounds for a violation. But Mr. Alexander will use any violations of the child labor laws in his defense. Now I would like to speak with some of Jim's co-workers.
They are not here today. Everybody called in sick.
(Chants of "Fair Pay" and "Quickie makes me sickie" are heard offstage Left.)
What the hell is that racket?
(JOE goes out into the dining room and looks offstage Left.)
JOE (shocked)
Why it's that union trouble maker and some of our crew picketing the store! I see Mike out there. He wasn't sick after all.
KEITH (outraged)
They can't picket here! I won't have any protesters trespassing on Quickie Burger property. Mr Kirby, can't you get the police to come and drag them off?
DA KIRBY (Looking off at the protest outside)
What's all this? Are you having labor relations problems? I'm afraid this could impact upon the trial. If they're protesting working conditions here it could lend credibility to Mr. Alexander's defense.
(LeBOTZ enters from Left and approaches the counter.)
LEBOTZ (jubilant)
Nice to see you again Keith. I met up with a few of your sick employees and we decided to do an exercise to improve our morale. We could be at it all day until we start to feel better. I still have that recognition form for you to sign if you want to give us an excuse to go off and celebrate.
KEITH (incensed)
You'd better get the hell out of here and call off that protest! I've got the District Attorney here and he will have you all arrested if you don't cease and desist immediately.
DA KIRBY (annoyed)
Hold on there. I'm here on official business in connection with the charges against Mr. Alexander. I'm not here to break up a picket line.
LEBOTZ (archly)
Too bad you don't have Jim's suicide note.
What suicide note?
KEITH (frantic)
Get the hell out of here, now! I want you out of this store this instant!
Why the suicide note that Keith tore up because Jim blamed everything on Quickie Burger.
KEITH (desperate)
That's a lie! I never had a suicide note.
(LeBOTZ pulls a videotape out of his pocket.)
LEBOTZ (smugly)
Well you don't have to take my word for it. Remember when you were filming that commercial to promote Quickie Burger as a good employer? Well I bought the videotape from the cameraman. He was still filming when I accused you of tearing up the note and you certainly have a guilty look on your face in this video. You didn't really deny tearing up the note either.
You mean that idiot never turned the camera off? Well that doesn't prove anything. It's not admissible in court, is it Mr. Kirby?
(DA KIRBY takes the videotape from LeBOTZ.)
Well I'll have to view the tape to make a determination. This could be grounds for an obstruction of justice charge against you Mr. McConnell. We may have to drop the charges against Mr. Alexander for lack of evidence, although he is still accountable for making terroristic threats and possession of an unlicensed weapon.
Several of the crew will testify that they saw Keith tear up the note.
Where is that recognition form? I'll sign it if you'll just get off my back. I've had about enough of your meddlesome intrusions into my business affairs.
LEBOTZ (triumphant)
Ah! You've finally come to your senses. You could have avoided all this trouble if you'd been reasonable from the start. But no, you have to fight every attempt of your employees to exercise their rights.
Just shut up and give me the form. I don't want to hear you crow about this all day long. I'd like to get back to business.
(LeBOTZ hands KEITH the form which he sullenly signs and returns to LeBOTZ in disgust.)
There! Now get my crew in here and buzz off. We'll discuss our terms of employment at a later date.
LEBOTZ (all smiles)
Thank you! I look forward to a long relationship under better circumstances. I'll ask your crew to return to work now.
(LeBOTZ exits Left and the chanting stops followed by a loud cheer. STEVE, MIKE, DEBBIE, and SONYA, wearing street clothes and holding picket signs, enter Left.)
DEBBIE (ecstatic)
Yeah! I'm a union gal now!
How much is our raises going to be?
STEVE (triumphant)
We've won! No more quiet desperation. I'm not so helpless after all. You didn't think we could do anything about your abuse, did you? Thought we had to take it because we had no recourse against you? Well we've shown you that there is always something that can be done. We've shown you that you can't run a business as an armed camp against the community. That people are more vital and essential than a roadside, greasy spoon sweatshop. From now on, let it be known that Americans are too proud to be humbled by a fast food joint. That any business which does not know its place in our community will be put in its place. And if we have no future then the Quickie Burgers of this country have no future for we will take the sweet taste of success out of their mouths and back into our communities!